There is seldom a movie that grips the audience from the very first scene and sustains the brilliance throughout the entire picture.  The Hustler is one of those films that, like the character Eddie when he hits his stride, can’t lose.

Like most guys my age, we tend to shy away from films made before the 1980’s (with the exception of Star Wars), at least, that is, until we learn something about what makes a truly wonderful film, and we go on to realize just how amazing it is to have one that includes Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke, Hud), George C. Scott (Dr. Strangelove, Patton), Jackie Gleason (of The Honeymooners) and Piper Laurie (Carrie).  The wonderful acting, cinematography, and directing (by Robert Rossen) enables The Huster to “rack up” a perfect 10 on The Joyce Review.

Paul Newman plays “Fast” Eddie Felson, in this black & white masterpiece that isn’t just a terrific character study of a guy who discovers Life both from, and beyond the game of pool, but examines the dark and seedy world of pool hustling; a world that many of us have little-to-no concept of.  Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) is a creature of the night, a hawkish, cold-blooded gambling king that gives Eddie the spiritual tutelage that his previous game lacked.  Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie) is Eddie’s shy, companion of the lost souls, and often inebriated romantic interest, whose consistent love and support brings him to an understanding that Life is achieved by giving.  Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) is the infamous pool shark, the hustler that no one can bring down.  However, before the youthful Eddie can contend with the likes of him, he must learn a valuable and hard lesson… the art of losing.*

(Bert Gordon to Findley [about Eddie])I didn’t ask him, ‘Can he beat ya?’ I already know he can beat ya.  I asked him, ‘Will he?’ To Eddie, that’s two different things.

As I’ve “grown up,” and I think I did a fairly descent job at it, I noticed one of the biggest roadblocks in my path was the pain of losing, but then again… there is also the pain of winning.  Many people have a hard time wrapping their head around this concept, but it is both very real and very destructive.  Vince Lombardi said it best,

Winning is a habit.  But then, so is losing.

Losing, at face value, doesn’t have much of an appeal… however, nothing is expected of you (especially if you call upon excuses).  People feel sorry for you and, in some circumstances, you are given help and attention.  Think for a moment about mountain climbing.  By winning, you succeed, coming to the mountain’s apex you all of a sudden have responsibilities and your choice of directions.  Those whom are masterful winners will make their choice of staying atop, not by fighting to hold position, but by reveling in the joy of climbing, looking back over their trodden path, and the vast landscape yet to discover.

Winners don’t mind being called losers, but losers really hate being called losers.  Most losers don’t just lack self-worth, they feed their failures with stories of why they can’t win.  Thus, bringing us to my favorite lines of the film:

Bert Gordon: Eddie, you’re a born loser.

Fast Eddie:  What’s that supposed to mean?

Bert Gordon:  First time in ten years I ever saw Minnesota Fats hooked… really hooked.  But you let him off.

Fast Eddie:  I told you I got drunk.

Bert Gordon:  Sure you got drunk.  You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse.  Winning… that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey.  You’ll drop that load too when you got an excuse.  All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself.  One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself.  A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.

Fast Eddie:  Thanks for the drink.

The Hustler is a film that succeeds in every facet of filmmaking and stands out in my mind as the epitome of film perfection.  Winning only 2 Oscars (Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Cinematography, Black & White) out of 9 nominations (missing out on Best Actor-Newman, Best Supporting-Gleason, Best Supporting-George C. Scott*, Best Lead Actress-Laurie, Best Director-Rossen, Best Picture-Rossen, Best Writing/Screenplay-Carroll,Rossen), The Hustler is proof that either its message is felt (that even the best, loses) or that the Academy is crooked.  Either way, The Hustler remains aloft, coasting far above external validation and finding its nest in the movie collections of those that have an eye for the exquisite.

* * *

*The word “losing” has, in our society, a great negativity about it.  Athletes (for the most part) despise losing and see winning and losing as the grande score sheet that reflects who they are and what their abilities are.  Losing, in a more philosophical and psychological context brings about growth, maturity, betterment, and is (usually) lacking from someone who consistently wins.  “The art of losing” is not meant to imply that losing is one’s goal, but rather, an artistic source for finding one’s true metal.

*George C. Scott, the consummate professional, held great contempt for the Academy Awards and shocked Hollywood as the first person to ever refuse an Oscar® (Patton, 1970).  He called it a ‘2 hour meat parade’ and later said that the whole thing was offensive, barbarous and innately corrupt.  Was it the organization itself, the playing on the “stars” vanity, or the idea of awards in general? I suppose we’ll never know.  But to The Hustler’s credit, it should have won more – showing us that (at least in 1961) the Academy had a smidge of favoritism for West Side Story (winning 10 Oscars®).


One Response to “THE HUSTLER :: DRAMA :: 026”

  1. I really miss Paul Newman. Not one of the actors I see today has anywhere near the talent Paul had. Maybe I will do a remake….well, maybe it would be fun to do a scene or two…….

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